At certain times of year a passion transforms into obsession for many people. It is a time of giving, and it’s cold – so that means it must be steelhead season in the PNW. Thinking back a year I see this picture of me taking a knee in the cold water of an ecosystem like so many here in Oregon, tailing a female steelhead. 2015 comes to a close I am in this same mode of discovery of these too few anadromous fish and this cycle of life’s adventure continues onward.
I was asked about comments I had made years before about steelhead while talking about handling that hen. I had said, “Why target the species? It’s endangered, so why go chase after it? Why not just leave it be and wait for them to rebound?” Here was a boundary I had created for myself and therefore the challenge must be answered. It’s hard to speak about conservation without experiencing the context of the issue for these fish, the community that focuses on them, and the rest of the trout species I tend to tie a fly on for.
I have come to know many stout conservationists who are also avid steelhead fishermen/women and I needed to understand why. Why would these outspoken conservationists be so keen to chase something they know is in bad shape as a species? Why target wild fish when there’s a whole mess of hatchery fish created specifically for this purpose? Sure, you could go hunt leatherback turtles if you want to risk it. Or what about a little brown pelican with a side of albatross? Doesn’t that all sound like fun? Sure sounds challenging to me. Heck, I bet there would be plenty of grip and grin shots over a bowl of turtle soup!
——>insert cheesy steelhead/unicorn analogy<—–
While targeting and tailing a wild fish certainly has the potential for disaster both for the fish and the angler, it becomes a moment in time that I can say reflects my various efforts in conservation/advocacy. This one glorious fish whose eyes, pulse, strength, and life were so evident at that moment. This cold winter day when the water is a warmer place to be than out in the wind. The thoughts that I had while reflecting on the thousands of miles it took for this to happen. The electricity of specific moments in my life on the road and the people I come in contact with are far too similar as to not notice the similarity to this moment with this steelhead.
The people I talked to and became friends with from traveling all over the Western US. The High School kids who asked for help to create a fly fishing club. Transferring leadership within the Bend Casting Club after another great year of saving fish on the Upper Deschutes. These moments hold a similar feeling to me as the tension of the water between my cold, wet hands and the fish I held for that brief moment.
Is it difficult to do this Trout Bus thing? You bet your ass it is. Whether your life is chasing fish, conservation/advocacy efforts, having a profession, raising a family – all of it gets better by the effort you are willing to put in. With your support and the businesses who believe in what I am doing,I am willing to put the effort because of the challenge – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.